SET (Students Expressing Truth) Group started in early 1999, founded by two inmates at South Camp, and supported by Kevin Wallen, part owner of a computer store in Kingston. Wallen arranged and held a meeting with the general population in the institution’s Chapel, resulting in the organization of a formal group. In its infant stages, the SET group hoped to study as well as teach other. Their main focus was the building of each other’s confidence with the hope that they might change the culture of the prison. Kevin began talks with the inmates twice each week. They were encouraged to read and communicate openly. Realizing that the inmates were eager for more opportunities, Kevin donated one computer to the prison. Shortly after, the group was given the clearance to refurbish the prison’s library, which then became SET’s meeting place.
In its initial stages each member was allowed an hour each day on the computer. However, the reaction was so great that an initiative was taken to add another five computers. SET members became very competent with a number of applications. It was decided to create classes in various subject areas. Mathematics, English, History, Sociology, Science, among others are now a part of the groups’ development. In the beginning, it was difficult to get teachers in to teach the men. However, Wallen soon found that it was best to teach the inmates how to teach themselves. With the help of interactive multimedia learning CD’s and the fact that there are some extremely intelligent people behind bars, SET progressed. At present the group boasts approximately fifty members at South Camp and 45 members at Fort Augusta (the women’s prison). SET has recently built a Lab at Tower Street General Penitentiary. This Prison houses over 1700 inmates in dire need of the various opportunities that SET offers. This lab was opened in February 2005.
SET classes are open to all inmates. On any given week there can be an upwards of 75-80 persons participating. The group gets involved with a variety of projects with the aim of motivating and including the entire prison population. Specialty courses such as Landscaping, Sound and Video Editing are also offered at the SET Lab. The intention is not only to teach the members of the groups but the entire prison population.
Currently SET has a Welfare Program to assist inmates who are in need. SET also organizes beautification projects, sports day festivities, leadership workshops, a spelling “B” competition, a quiz competition.
SET has a most important spiritual element. Each Sunday at 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. a meeting is held. These meetings are used as opportunity for discussions on a variety of subjects. However, the one thing that always seem to come out of meetings is the fact that as individuals we are all first responsible for our selves and then for each other. Group members are encouraged to spend a great deal of time looking at themselves from a holistic point of view. We often remind each other that man’s greatest struggles begin on the inside and not out, therefore, one needs seek the truth of himself, and not only speak it but express it as well.
A new Commissioner, Major Richard Reese has now undertaken to support and extend the SET program. Like Prescod, a military man and a believer in inmate rehabilitation, but unlike Prescod, a man of great management skill and political sensitivity. Spurred by a crisis caused by an escape attempt that resulted in the killing of a guard, Major Reese resolved to vitalize the SET program and expand it to include staff as well as inmates.
Tower Street and St Catherine inmates to benefit from computer training
published: April 25, 2005 in the Jamaica Gleaner
THE DEPARTMENT of Corrections has partnered with One Stop Computer Shop to expand its Students Expressing Truth (SET) computer programme to inmates at the Tower Street and St. Catherine Adult Correctional Centres.
Under the agreement, computer laboratories will be established at the correctional facilities, and inmates will be provided with access to computer courses in a variety of disciplines, ranging from video editing to architecture.
The Department of Corrections’ partnership with One Stop Computer Shop dates back to June 2002, when the company’s managing director, Kevin Wallen, who is a volunteer at the South Camp Adult Correctional Centre, assisted in the establishment of the SET programme, to provide technology training for the male inmates at that facility.
The initiative was aimed at bolstering the employability of incarcerated men once they have been released.
More than two years later, the programme has been deemed a qualified success, with more than 80 inmates having participated in the project, and acquiring useful skills.
Addressing a media briefing at his King Street offices recently Commissioner of Corrections Major Richard Reese explained that the foiled prison break at the Tower Street Correctional Centre last month, in part, influenced the decision to expand training to the island’s two other male prisons.
“We have done some reflection and I think it is widely accepted that there is a need to engage the staff and inmates of our institutions in a very meaningful way,” Major Reese said, further noting that given the computer training programme’s success at South Camp, its introduction into other prisons was seen as a favourable move. “We see it necessary to expand that programme as yet another vehicle for rehabilitation and engagement,” he added.
ORIGIN OF IDEA
Meanwhile, Mr. Wallen explained that Richard Bucknor and Robert James, two inmates at the South Camp facility, had originated the idea for the SET programme.
He said the inmates decided that “they wanted to get some studying done, so we did an assessment on the guys that were interested and found that out of the 10 at the time that showed some interest, eight of them were pretty illiterate to the point where they could not read or write, and the other two were barely literate.”
Mr. Wallen said that he initially brought in newspapers for the men to read, and subsequently introduced interactive computer programming to improve their reading ability.
“The programmes that we had were very simple and interactive that they would tell them when they got something wrong and if they wanted to know how to spell it (a word), they could just click a button and it would tell them ... we used that and saw where some of the guys went from not being able to read anything at all, to where they are taking part in quiz competitions and spelling bee competitions,” he pointed out.
Not content to teach the inmates only software programmes, such as Microsoft Word, he said, “We thought we should teach them some different types of software, rather than just read and type ... teach them how to use programmes like Autocad, how they can build houses ... and video editing ...”
In addition to the SET pro-gramme, the Department of Corrections will also be undertaking other initiatives to foster improved relations between the inmates and the staff of the prisons.
Major Reese said these initiatives would include, a study on the justice process that would involve the Norman Manley Law School and court users; a study on trust; and a partnership with the United Nations Development Programme?s (UNDP) Vision 21 Project and the community radio station, ROOTS FM, to have broad-based societal civic dialogue on ways to have a safer, less violence-prone country.
Charles Neeson, Professor of Law and Faculty Co-Director of the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School, will be lending assistance to the SET programme as well as the study on the justice process.